A new study in the American Journal of Infection Control reveals that Twitter is now a popular and reliable source for receiving and sharing new information about vaccines.
The implications of the finding are potentially huge.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin analyzed 9,510 vaccination-related tweets from one week in January 2012 to determine the most popular and influential messages.
They then coded a final sample of 2,580 tweets for the following conditions: frequency of sharing, tone toward vaccinations, links to sources (for example, news outlets, advocacy groups, or healthcare providers), and whether the claims being made in each tweet were scientifically substantiated.
Tone-wise, 33% of the 2,580 tweets were positive about vaccines, 54% were neutral, and 13% were negative.
Here’s the impressive part: of the 14% of tweets that contained medical information, more than two-thirds offered content substantiated by scientific research.
That means that Twitter can be considered a reasonably reliable source of information about vaccines.
Here was the source breakdown: health-specific sites like WebMD (16% of 341 links), U.S. media like The New York Times (13%), medical organizations like the American Medical Association (12%), and digital news aggregators like the Huffington Post (10%).
Back in October 2011, a biology professor similarly used Twitter to track how receptive the public was to vaccines like the H1N1, observing how many people perceived the vaccine positively, negatively, and neutrally around the United States.
At that time, it was reported that there was hope that this method could be used to track future vaccines and even diseases or epidemics around the country. Seems like this new study only substantiates that stance.
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